68 years of independence and over a 100 years of Indian cinema. What was once considered a medium of entertainment for the elite, cinema is now the common man's breathing space. As a result, the common man no longer shies away from venturing into an art based profession.
It's heartening to see that slowly and steadily, this new wave of authenticity is overshadowing star-illusion. Supremely talented actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Rajkummar Rao are finally getting their due and Irrfan Khan is slowly becoming a crowd-puller, not only here but globally and we, cinema enthusiasts, couldn't be happier about it.
While that shows the continuous growth of Indian cinema and its audiences, we appear to have forgotten about the actors who've brought about this change.
Come to think of it; we love Nawazuddin Siddiqui. But there may not have been a Nawazuddin Siddiqui if there was no Manoj Bajpai. Actors like Nana Patekar and Manoj Bajpai have been quietly making a path for character artists, long before Nawazuddins & Irrfans happened to our country.
Why does it then take someone like Hansal Mehta to exploit the talent of Manoj Bajpai? Why does it take Gangs of Wasseypur or Aligarh to "re-introduce" Manoj Bajpai to the Indian audiences?
Why is Nana Patekar not talked about as much as Irrfan Khan?
We're not at all picking favorites here and we're certainly not implying that one is better than the other. However, we also can't deny the fact that one is certainly more experienced than the other and while one does get his share of recognition, the other often goes unnoticed.
All we're saying is, Irrfan is a great actor, but so is Manoj Bajpai.
What if there hadn't been a Satya, would we still have Manoj Bajpai? And mind you, he has worked in the times in Bollywood when it was easier for character actors to get typecast in a particular kind of role.
There was a phase in Manoj Bajpai's career when he delivered great, almost unbelievable performances one after the other in films like Satya, Kaun, Shool, Fiza, Aks, Zubeida, Pinjar. However, what's heartbreaking is that despite winning 2 national awards in this duration, it still took him 10 more years to break through to the mainstream audiences with Gangs of Wasseypur.
Does it all boil down to the PR machinery of an actor?
As much as we'd hate to believe but there's a certain amount of truth to the popular saying in Bollywood circles, "Joh dikhta hai, woh bikta hai". So, is it really about the appearances one makes? Is that what it takes for our media to cover someone like Manoj Bajpai?
Or is it that we see actors in a new light altogether once they cross over to Hollywood?
Because let's face it, how much did we celebrate Irrfan Khan before he ventured into international projects?
Or is it just a case of being around at the wrong time? A time when social media was yet to happen to this part of the world?
Social media, since its inception, has been a great voice for people. It's a platform where people love to bash and laud in equal measures and basically be a part of all sorts of conversations. And cinema is no different.
Today, social media has armed every normal person with a point of view and that's actually brought a great deal of authenticity to Indian cinema. It's difficult for a good actor to go unnoticed today than it was 15 years ago. While Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been struggling for years and years together, it was the hype on social media around his performances that added to his much needed fan base.
And there couldn't be a bigger loss for a self-respecting, cinema-loving nation if Manoj Bajapi has actually suffered the brunt of breaking in Indian cinema when there was no social media.
Manoj has himself been a vocal advocate of the disparity in his paycheck when compared to his contemporaries. It's unfortunate and almost unforgivable that India's best actor, someone who has single-handedly raised the bar for actors, isn't paid and talked about enough. And yet, it took us decades to even raise the question:
Is Manoj Bajpai still not "star" enough for us to see a movie just because he is present in it?
While that, however, may not be the case with his contemporaries. As his new movie Aligarh is doing the rounds of media, we can't help but hold ourselves responsible for not giving Manoj Bajpai the recognition he deserves.
One can't dismiss the fact that had Manoj Bajpai received appropriate media coverage, he would easily be a bigger crowd-puller today than most of our current stars. Because pit him against the very best and he still comes out a little better, everytime.
The bigger question is: Aligarh may very well become another feather in Manoj Bajpai's hat but will it change his fate?
We're not sure because we are well-aware of how our country functions. Aren't we?
We don't see Manoj Bajpai endorsing products on television, we don't see him being a part of big budget productions, we sure as hell don't see him giving up.
Maybe, just maybe, we don't deserve him. Maybe he's too good an actor for an audience that just can't see beyond its stars.
The purpose of this article is not to make you hate other actors but to make you appreciate the unsung heroes of Bollywood, people who have changed the landscape, people who have inspired actors/writers/directors out of us.
Before you go spewing hatred on Bollywood, media and others, take a moment to realize that it's your fault, it's my fault, it's our fault. If we went to the theaters to watch Pinjar, Shool, Kaun and many more great movies Manoj Bajpai was in, he'd be a star today. Maybe it's time to turn to the basics of simple demand and supply.